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Signs of Cerebral Palsy

baby lying down

You may find out when your baby is born that he has some brain damage. Or sometimes, you don't know that your child has a problem until he gets older and seems different. If your baby has brain damage, you may notice that he:

  • Doesn't have much energy
  • Seems very fussy
  • Has a high-pitched (squealing) cry
  • Trembles or twitches
  • Has problems feeding, sucking and swallowing
  • Is floppy (this is called low muscle tone)
  • Holds his legs tightly together like a closed scissor (this is called high muscle tone)
  • Has trouble reaching for or holding things in his hands
  • Favors one side of his body
  • Holds his hands in tight fists

As he gets a little older, other signs of motor (movement) problems may show up. Watch to see if he has problems:

  • reaching for toys by about 3 or 4 months
  • sitting by about 6 or 7 months
  • starting to walk between 10 and 14 months.

If your baby shows signs like this, your doctor will want to give him tests of motor function. This means testing to see if your baby can move the different parts of his body the right way. Even if your baby seems to have problems moving his body, your doctor may still want to wait until your child is about 18 months or older before saying for sure that the movement problems are from cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy and hearing loss
If your child has cerebral palsy, you already have a lot of things to worry about. You might be worried about your child's learning, walking, and even breathing. It might be hard to find time to think about other things. But try not to forget about your child's hearing!

Children with cerebral palsy are more likely to have a hearing loss than other children. About 1 out of 10 children with cerebral palsy have a hearing loss. Children with cerebral palsy can have a sensorineural or conductive hearing loss. The hearing loss can range from mild to profound.

You should also look for signs of hearing loss in your child, like your child:

  • not noticing certain sounds
  • not responding to his name
  • watching people's faces closely to understand what they are saying
  • If you think your child's hearing is getting worse, take him to an audiologist as soon as possible.

Sometimes children with cerebral palsy have liquid in their ear canals. This is because they get colds often, or have a hard time swallowing. This liquid can cause ear infections. Your doctor may want to do a test called tympanometry.

Get your child's hearing tested often, starting when your child is 4 months old. Ask the audiologist how often to get your child's hearing tested. If you can, have the testing done by an audiologist who knows about testing children with disabilities like cerebral palsy. You may be able to find someone like this at a children's hospital.

Getting a true hearing test is hard for children with cerebral palsy. Why? Because many children with cerebral palsy can't control their bodies enough to raise their hands when they hear the sounds.

Talk with your child's teacher. She may be able to come up with ways to help your child signal the audiologist. Hearing tests that don't need your child to cooperate, like OAEs, can be done on children with cerebral palsy.

Next: How you can help your child.

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NIDCD

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
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